Last week I was reminiscing about my first home-office job with my former boss, Cary Butler. Back in 1997 when I accepted a position as a district manager for Toshiba, the first step was to set up a home office. I remember when the UPS driver rang my doorbell to deliver a fax machine. That same day, the local phone company dropped in to add three more phone lines to my house—one line to share between my fax and computer modem and the second line for my desk phone.
That began my journey of working at home, along with various hotels and airports!
Over the years, my friends have asked me if I like working at home. As an introvert (INTJ, Enneagram 5) my answer is always a hearty, “Yes!” I get so much more done without the noise and distraction of an office. I think my introvert friends will agree that working from home is a gift.
My friends who are more extraverted usually feel differently. “I could never work at home,” is a common response.
Well, guess what? It appears that most of us will be working from home for the near future. My guess is that after the pandemonium about the pandemic ends, many companies will realize how much money they could save with a remote workforce. The drawbacks of virtual workers will fade into the background and more of us will find ourselves working at home.
Today, I work with a team at Convergo spread across six time zones. All of us work from home offices. Most of this was by necessity as the type of talent we needed didn’t exist in one zip code. So, we built our team based on the best talent, not location. As a result, we spend most of our days using collaboration tools like #Slack and communication tools like Zoom.
What have I learned? Here are a few things:
1. Make It Feel Like Work
For me, it was important to set up a place in my home that felt like work. This meant dedicating a room to work. However, this room needs to be more than a spare bedroom. I removed the bed and chest of drawers. Then I went down to the office supply store and bought a real desk. Ten years ago, I purchased a full office suite. Today, my office has a huge wrap around desk, conference table, and filing cabinets. While it is a room in my house, it functions as an office.
2. Get Dressed
Home office workers often brag about the ability to work in their PJ’s or gym clothes. While this is sometimes OK, as a habit I make a point to shower, shave, and put on the same type of clothes I’d wear to the office. The ritual of getting dressed tells your mind, “It’s time to go to work.” These days with video conferencing, we must look our best. Just because you’re not physically in someone’s office doesn’t mean you don’t need to dress appropriately.
3. Schedule Your Day
I love productivity hacks. Years ago as a new sales professional I learned the power of blocking time on my calendar for important things like prospecting. 27 years later, I still use time blocking. This is critical for home office workers. My family also knows my schedule. I’m in my office during working hours. It’s great to step out for a break and see my wife, kids, or grandkids. However, they know that when I’m working, I’m to be left alone unless it’s an emergency.
4. Take Breaks
In the office, a common ritual is to grab a cup of coffee or go to lunch. When you work at home, it’s easy to just plow through. The reality is that the human mind works best in bursts of effort followed by a time of recovery. Some of my most productive days are ones where I schedule lunch with someone. Alternatively, as we all try to stay home, you could go for a walk around your neighborhood or spend some time working outside. These breaks are critical.
5. Shut It Down
When I’m done working at the end of the day, I clean up my desk, turn off the lights, and shut the door to my office. Unless I’m working, I don’t go into this room. My home is a place for relaxation, family, and friends. It’s important to me to keep a bit of a firewall between my office and my family. In my previous house, my office was upstairs. My new home has the offices at one end of the house, separate from the rest of the family activity. I realize this isn’t possible for everyone, however, as much as possible, set your office up so you can leave it at the end of the day.
Working from home can be a challenge. However, by taking the steps above, I’ve created an environment that helps maximize my productivity while not interfering with my family.